This is part of a series on partriarchy, headship, and submission. See this index.
The prophets of modern red-pill wisdom like to think that it has its roots in ancient tradition. I frequently run into comments that assert that what I believe is a modern corruption of the plain, ancient meanings of scripture as passed down for hundreds and thousands of years, despite my aggressive citation of the original Hebrew and Greek and the cited testimony of the early church fathers. The reality is:
Much of modern Red Pill wisdom does not align with scripture
In Homily 20 (on Ephesians 5:22-33) and Homily 26 (on 1 Corithians 11:2-16), John Chrysostom—writing in the late 4th century—promotes a much older patriarchy that looks quite different from the modern Red Pill. This article will cover the various key ways that the modern Red Pill differs from the ancient Christian patriarchy.
The first key difference is creation. Chrysostom explicitly states that women only became subjected to men because of the curse of the fall. The authority of a husband over his wife is not inherent in God’s creation of man and woman.
Wherefore you see, [Eve] was not subjected as soon as she was made; nor, when He brought her to the man, did either she hear any such thing from God, nor did the man say any such word to her: he said indeed that she was “bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh” (Genesis 2:23) but of rule or subjection he no where made mention unto her. But when she made an ill use of her privilege and she who had been made a helper was found to be an ensnarer and ruined all, then she is justly told for the future, “your turning shall be to your husband” (Genesis 3:16).
This was the conclusion of “An Analysis of Genesis 3:16.” Chrysostom even uses the same understanding of ‘turning’. The nature of the ruling of the husband over his wife in Genesis 3:16 overwhelmingly connotes a negative curse. One possible non-literal, verbose paraphrase translation that captures this is this:
“…you shall turn away from yourself [giving up equality and control] and [now] towards your husband, yet he shall dominate you…”
That’s a proper curse, one which Paul in Ephesians 5 says only love and submission can cure, although Chrysostom, promoting his mode of patriarchy, believes that this curse is now normative and natural. Regardless, Chrysostom would disagree with modern Red Pill wisdom that God had designed men and women to be in a hierarchy when he created them.
In keeping with his view that women and men were designed to be equal, Chrysostom states that men and women have equal honor:
For had Paul [in 1 Corinthians 11:3] meant to speak [regarding ‘head’] of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master. For what if the wife be under subjection to us? It is as a wife, as free, as equal in honor. [..] For if we admire the Son that He was obedient so as to come even unto death, and the death of the cross, and reckon this the great wonder concerning Him; we ought to admire the Father also, that He begot such a son, not as a slave under command, but as free, yielding obedience and giving counsel. For the counselor is no slave. But again, when you hear of a counselor, do not understand it as though the Father were in need, but that the Son has the same honor with Him that begot Him. Do not therefore strain the example of the man and the woman to all particulars. For with us indeed the woman is reasonably subjected to the man: since equality of honor causes contention.
Chrysostom plainly believed that men and women were of equal honor, but that a woman needed to submit to promote unity and to avoid contention that naturally occurs among those of equal honor. This is quite different from the notion that wives should submit because God created men to have inherent authority over women. Chrysostom clearly believed that wives should submit to their husbands, but his reasons—inferiority vs superiority—bear little resemblance to Red Pill wisdom’s hyper-focus on exercising authority.
The modern Red Pill states that a husband should rule over his wife, exercising authority to correct her errors. But Chrysostom believed that husbands and wives should tend to their own marital duties and not worry about the deficiencies in their spouse.
But let us not do thus nor enquire into the things enjoined on others, when we are charged with regard to our own: for neither will your obtaining a partner in the charges free you from the blame: but look to one thing only, how you may rid yourself of those charges which lie against yourself. Since Adam also laid the blame on the woman, and she again on the serpent, but this did in no wise deliver them. Do not thou, therefore, for your part, say this to me now, but be careful with all consideration to render what you owe to your husband: since also when I am discoursing with your husband, advising him to love and cherish you, I allow him not to bring forward the law that is appointed for the woman, but I require of him that which is written for himself. And do thou therefore busy yourself with those things only which belong to you, and show yourself tractable to your consort. And accordingly if it be really for God’s sake that you obey your husband, tell me not of the things which ought to be done by him, but for what things you have been made responsible by the lawgiver, those perform with exactness.
And these things I say, not bidding the husbands be harsh; but persuading the wives to bear even with harshness in their husbands. Since when each is careful to fulfill his own duty, his neighbor’s part also will quickly follow: as when the wife is prepared to bear even with rough behavior in the husband, and the husband refrains from abusing her in her angry mood; then all is a calm and a harbor free from waves. So also was it with those of old time. Each was employed in fulfilling his own duty, not in exacting that of his neighbor.
Chrysostom wants the church to inform wives of their duties, not the role of husbands. Indeed, it is in this role that Chrysostom makes these claims. Husbands and wives should tend to their own duties.
As we saw in the section on ‘Equality’, Chrysostom did not interpret the word ‘head’ to mean authority, but instead declared this to be heresy.
“But the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” Here the heretics rush upon us with a certain declaration of inferiority, which out of these words they contrive against the Son. [..] Therefore if we choose to take the term,head,in the like sense in all the clauses, the Son will be as far removed from the Father as we are from Him. Nay, and the woman will be as far removed from us as we are from the Word of God. And what the Son is to the Father, this both we are to the Son and the woman again to the man. And who will endure this? [..] For had Paul meant to speak of rule and subjection, as you say, he would not have brought forward the instance of a wife, but rather of a slave and a master. For what if the wife be under subjection to us? It is as a wife, as free, as equal in honor.
And so it is that if the wife is inferior to the husband because he is the head, then the Son must be inferior to the Father. Unlike Red Pill Wisdom (e.g. “Wayne Gruden’s Study of the Greek Word kephale, “Head”“), Chrysostom understands ‘head’ to be a matter of priority or order:
The wife is a second authority; let not her then demand equality, for she is under the head
That ‘head’ means preeminence, priority, or order—not authority—is a point that I have made time and again. It is why she is second. The meaning of ‘authority’ only arose in the common Greek language in the 4th century or later. Chrysostom, himself writing in the late 4th century, plainly agrees. It is also quite interesting that he calls her an authority, the second to the first, a comment that makes no sense if ‘head’ means ‘authority’ and ‘body’ implied complete subjection. For the Red Pill interpretation of authority to make sense, Paul would have had to use the example of a master and slave, not husband and wife.
The Red Pill wisdom likes to quote 1 Peter 3, where wives are told to submit and the obedience of Sarah to Abraham is promoted as the key example. But, as I pointed out months ago, Abraham and Sarah obeyed each other. This is not some new idea that feminists came up with, but an ancient one found in the Old Testament (and the Greek Septuagint). John Chrysostom agrees:
She also reverenced her husband; for hear her own words, “It has not yet happened unto me even until now, and my lord is old also” (Genesis 18:12). And he again so loved her, that in all things he obeyed her commands.
Well, this is what I want to point out, that both he obeyed her in all things, and she him.
In Abraham and Sarah we see the example of a husband and wife that lived without contention and obeyed each other’s commands, each according to their own authority. Chrysostom notes that Abraham obeyed his wife because he loved her. Love—not obedience—is the greatest form of submission.
The Red Pill believes that only wives can submit. They do not view a man’s service, sacrifice, love, or honor as submission. Chrysostom disagrees, arguing rather that love is a greater form of submission than a wife’s mere obedience.
You have heard how great the submission; you have extolled and marveled at Paul, how, like an admirable and spiritual man, he welds together our whole life. Thou did well. But now hear what he also requires at your hands; for again he employs the same example.
You have seen the measure of obedience, hear also the measure of love. Would you have your wife obedient unto you, as the Church is to Christ? Take then yourself the same provident care for her, as Christ takes for the Church. Yea, even if it shall be needful for you to give your life for her, yea, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yea, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever — refuse it not. Though you should undergo all this, yet will you not, no, not even then, have done anything like Christ. For thou indeed art doing it for one to whom you are already knit; but He for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way then as He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him, who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him, not by menaces, nor by violence, nor by terror, nor by anything else of the kind, but by his unwearied affection; so also do thou behave yourself toward your wife. Yea, though thou see her looking down upon you, and disdaining, and scorning you, yet by your great thoughtfulness for her, by affection, by kindness, you will be able to lay her at your feet.
But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and menaces, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband himself enjoy, if he dwells with his wife as with a slave, and not as with a free-woman? Yea, though you should suffer anything on her account, do not upbraid her; for neither did Christ do this.
Whatsoever kind of wife you shall take, yet shall you never take such a bride as the Church, when Christ took her, nor one so far removed from you as the Church was from Christ. And yet for all that, He did not abhor her, nor loathe her for her surpassing deformity.
Supply her with everything. Do everything and endure trouble for her sake. Necessity is laid upon you.
Correction and Punishment
Some Red Pill Wisdom has promoted various modes of correction or punishment for a wife’s insolence. Chrysostom addresses this concern explicitly:
But the woman is insolent, says he. Consider nevertheless that she is a woman, the weaker vessel, whereas you are a man. For therefore were thou ordained to be ruler; and were assigned to her in place of a head, that you might bear with the weakness of her that is set under you. Make then your rule glorious. And glorious it will be when the subject of it meets with no dishonor from you. And as the monarch will appear so much the more dignified, as he manifests more dignity in the officer under him; but if he dishonor and depreciate the greatness of that rank, he is indirectly cutting off no small portion of his own glory likewise: so also thou dishonor her who governs next to yourself, will in no common degree mar the honor of your governance.
Rather than correction or punishment, it is striking that Chrysostom tells husbands to bear the weaknesses of their wives with dignity, so as not to bring even a hint of dishonor upon his wife. “Be a man! Man up!” Chrysostom might say. The modern Red Pill wisdom would deride Chrysostom as a feminist White Knight.
The Red Pill wisdom rejects the mutual submission of members of the church. It falsely separates Ephesians 5:21 from 5:22 in order to falsely imply marital authority. But Chrysostom, commenting on Ephesians 5:23-24 noted that Paul’s use of “the church” implied the inclusion of both husbands and wives:
As then the Church, that is, both husbands and wives, is subject unto Christ, so also ye wives submit yourselves to your husbands, as unto God.
Thus the submission of the church to each other in Christ (in Ephesians 5:21) must logically include both husbands and wives in that submission to each other.
Red Pill wisdom is not ancient, nor is it biblical. Sure, parts of it are rooted in scripture, but it is at best a challenge to separate the good from the bad. The reason I focus on the original Greek language is because the proponents of Red Pill wisdom claim that it is biblical and that anything view that disagrees—including historical analyses—is a modern corruption. This begs the question.
And so it is interesting how John Chrysostom, writing three centuries after Paul, differs so greatly from the Red Pill’s version of patriarchy, despite himself promoting a type of patriarchy. They cannot both (if either at all!) be the form of God-given patriarchy described in scripture for 4,000 years.
Chrysostom’s patriarchy is much less developed than modern patriarchy. This is because it had much less time to develop. Yet both are still deviations from scripture. It’s important not to fall into a false dilemma and believe that one must choose between Chrysostom’s view or the Red Pill view.
Two (or maybe three) hundred years earlier, a presbyter in Asia wrote “The Acts of Paul and Thecla”. He was subsequently deposed from his position for his forgery. Despite being a forgery, the Acts were widely disseminated and popular. Tertullian noted that the presbyter had written it “for love of Paul.” We can see that there were many in the early church who interpreted Paul’s writings in an egalitarian light. The idea that that Paul promoted the equality of women is of ancient origin, much older than the modern flavors of patriarchy, even as early as the first century.
John Chrysostom, “Homily 9 on First Timothy”
“But I suffer not a woman to teach [, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence]” (1 Timothy 2:12). “I do not suffer”, he says. What place has this command here? The fittest. He was speaking of quietness, of propriety, of modesty, so having said that he wished them not to speak in the church, to cut off all occasion of conversation, he says, let them not teach, but occupy the station of learners. For thus they will show submission by their silence. For the sex is naturally somewhat talkative: and for this reason he restrains them on all sides.
On firstness or preeminence of the ‘head’:
“If it be asked, what has this to do with women of the present day? It shows that the male sex enjoyed the higher honor. Man was first formed; and elsewhere he shows their superiority. “Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). Why then does he say this? He wishes the man to have the preeminence in every way; both for the reason given above, he means, let him have precedence, and on account of what occurred afterwards.”
John Chrysostom, “Homily 10 on Colossians”
“That is, be subject for God’s sake, because this adorns you, he says, not them. For I mean not that subjection which is due to a master, nor yet that alone which is of nature, but that for God’s sake.”
John Chrysostom, “Homily 37 on First Corinthians”
On silence in subjection:
For having said, “Let your women keep silence in the churches”; and “it is not permitted unto them to speak, but let them be in subjection”; he added, “as also says the law.” And where does the law say this? “Your desire shall be to your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16).